Yesterday morning I finished my project of thinking about all my other projects. Man, it feels fantastic to know that I’ve got all that thinking done! I have much more energy and motivation to get things done! It has also freed up my mind so I can think about other, non project related things…
As a programmer, it’s easy for me to see myself as a kind of computer. What do computers do? Computers accept input, process it, and provide output. In GTD terms, this is collect, process, and do. Computers have little need to review; and organization is generally handled by housekeeping routines that are written into the programs or operating systems. This makes these two functions part of processing.
For humans and computers both, processing is an entirely internal and mental activity. The external activities (collect and do) are really easy. They are essentially mindless as long as we’ve spent the proper amount of time and energy thinking (processing).
I’ve been thinking lately about what separates so many truly great people from everyone else. Throughout history, what has been the common thread among these individuals? I think the common thread is time and energy spent thinking and processing the inputs of their lives.
We have so many channels of “input” in our lives. In fact, we have more channels of input today than at any time in human history. We have hundreds of radio and television stations, billions of web pages, books, magazines, newspapers, and ezines, and hundreds of friends around the world with whom we discuss things. These inputs are all in addition to the inputs we have in our life from work, family, and other obligations. Is it any wonder we feel overwhelmed so much of the time? Yet David tells us:
It’s not too much information, it’s the inputs we have implicitly allowed to cross a transom into our world psychologically and physically, but the input does not belong where it is, the way it is, for all eternity. It represents some thing you have an internal commitment about but you haven’t clarified what that is or organized it. And that’s where the pressure is coming from. By the way, there’s a lot of stuff: every thing, every email, every voice mail, every piece of paper, everything—that’s all stuff. A lot of you get 300 to 500 pieces of stuff a day.
I’ve determined that one of the best ways I can create more time and energy for thinking and processing is to limit the inputs of my life as much as possible. Computers naturally slow down as input channels increase. Anyone who has ever tried to type an email while their computer is playing a CD, copying a large file from an external drive, and scanning a document at the same time has expereinced this decrease in processing power. Our minds work the same way. Information can be all around us and it doesn’t cause any decrease in processing power until we give it conscious consideration.
For example, I’m finding it much easier to say, “No.” I was talking to my manager at work on Thursday about some people that had brought things to my attention and I politely told them they would need to take it elsewhere. There was a time that I would have said, “You know, you’re right, that does need to be changed. I’ll get with so-and-so and see what we can do about it.” This time I said, “Well, you may be right, but that’s not for me to decide, and it’s not really in my realm to initiate a change. If you want to see so-and-so then they can initiate a change.” They looked shocked!
I also sent an email to our Minister of Administration at church letting him know that I was moving some of my open projects to my Someday list. Although I thought that he would be understanding, I didn’t think he would be very happy about it. He responded with, “I was wondering how long you could keep up that pace. I fully understand.” I still have several projects going on for my church, but now I have only one open project for each of my four roles there. (I did have about 6 open projects for one role.) Apparently this pastor forwarded that email on to the rest of the senior staff. Our Worship Minister told me this morning how much he appreciated reading that email.
I also spent some time this weekend unsubscribing from several newsletters and stopping emails for just about all of the discussion lists I’ve been participating in. (Note that I didn’t unsubscribe from the discussion groups, I just stopped the emails from coming in.) I have realized over the last two weeks that even though I had consciously decided not to read these messages, just seeing them in an unread state placed a lot of psychological stress on me.
The newsletters and discussion groups were all about productivity and organization. There comes a time, however, when we have so much input on productivity and organization that it hinders us from being productive and organized. I’ve certainly learned a lot from all these, but those things also take time and energy that right now I want to devote to other things. I can’t practice being productive and organized when I spend so much time studying about it. We must graduate so that we can apply what we have learned.
My challenge to my readers today is for you to evaluate the quality and pertinence of the inputs that you have allowed into your life. Which of these inputs can you stop to give you more time to do the things that are really going to have impact on your life in the long run.